Spirits of New York: History & Recipes Of New York Cocktails

History & Recipes Of New York Cocktails

Feature Photo: Alizada Studios / Shutterstock.com

Whenever visiting a city like New York, no place on earth has the Big Apple’s charmful spirit and cultural influence. There is a reason why it has been one of the favorite tourist attractions for people worldwide to visit. This is also the place where some of the world’s most popular cocktails got its start.

Spirits of New York

The five boroughs that sum up the cultural spirit of New York City are The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. In addition to each one having a cocktail named after them, each borough also has its own set of variants that have spawned to become local favorites. Some of these cocktails are more popular than others but each of them has become a steady favorite among New Yorkers who continue to enjoy them to this day.

The Bronx

When sipping The Bronx from a cocktail glass, the taste of gin, vermouth, and orange juice pops out as a wonderful mix for the palette. In other words, it was a perfect martini that included a dose of orange juice. In 1934, The Bronx was officially ranked as the third most famous cocktail in the world. This popular beverage was printed in the 1908 edition of The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them.

It was this cocktail William Griffith Wilson (Bill W.) tasted for the first time as a spirited beverage. This is the same man who founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 as part of his determined effort to overcome his addiction to alcoholic beverages.

Despite the argument about The Bronx’s origin as a cocktail between New York and Philadelphia, one of the most popular stories behind its invention is credited to Johnnie Sloan, a bartender who worked at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. He was regarded as one of the best mixologists of his time and was challenged to create an original cocktail mix. Sloan’s recipe included adding gin and orange juice to his infamous Duplex cocktail. The Duplex featured equal parts of French and Italian vermouth, along with grated orange peel and orange bitters.  When challenged, Sloan merely added two jiggers of Gordon Gin and a jigger of orange juice.  These were added to the Duplex and it became a big hit.

Although Sloan’s new recipe originated in Manhattan, The Bronx became the cocktail’s name between 1899 and 1906 when the colleague who challenged him thought up the name after visiting the borough’s Bronx Zoo.


The original Brooklyn cocktail features rye, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and the French aperitif Amer Picon. This was the borough’s take on another popular beverage, the Manhattan.  The standout stars in this recipe are the maraschino and the specific bitters chosen to make it.  

This whiskey-based cocktail was originally invented in 1908 by a bartender named Jack Grohusko. Although he worked at a restaurant in Lower Manhattan, the owner of it lived in Brooklyn. In 1908, Brooklyn first appeared as a recipe in Jacques Straub’s mixology book, Drinks. This was one of the most popular cocktails served then until Prohibition nearly put Brooklyn into obscurity as the Amer Picon became extremely difficult to come by.

It wouldn’t be until the 1990s that it would make a comeback. Nowadays, Brooklyn has its collection of spinoffs that have been named after neighborhoods such as Greenpoint and Red Hook.  Amer Picon is still hard to hard to get so it has often been substituted with other orange bitter options such as Amaro Tosolini and Angostura.


Perhaps the most famous of all the cocktails associated with New York would be the Manhattan. As far as the Big Apple’s contribution to the world as a popular beverage served at the bar, Manhattan is the granddaddy of them all. According to The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, this one is listed as one of the six basics every mixologist should know.

Named after New York’s busiest borough, Manhattan is a cocktail that features the perfect balance of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. One of the stories suggests Manhattan got its start at a banquet that was hosted by Jennie Jerome (otherwise known as Lady Randolph Churchill) at the Manhattan Club. The bartender’s name was Iain Marshall and it was he who mixed what became an unforgettable beverage favorite.  Long after the party was over, the Manhattan Club became famous for Marshall’s cocktail.

Another Manhattan cocktail story is linked to a bartender named Mr. Black who worked as a bartender during the 1860s on Broadway near Houston Street. In 1884, two books about this popular beverage were published with different recipes. Charlie Paul’s American and Other Drinks printed a version that featured three or four drops of angostura bitters, a ditto of plain syrup, half a liqueur glass of vermouth, half a wine glass of Scotch whiskey, and a lemon garnish. As for O.H. Byron’s book, The Modern Bartender’s Guide, this one had one recipe favoring French vermouth while the other used Italian vermouth.

Since then, several publications have revealed variants of Manhattan as a cocktail beverage. The infamous Brooklyn was originally invented as a fruity twist to Manhattan when the bartender was inspired to come up with something new.  It almost became as popular but nothing tops Manhattan as New York City’s crown jewel of cocktail favorites.


As a cocktail, Queens is a variant from the popular favorites, Brooklyn and Manhattan.  This recipe calls for gin, vermouth, and pineapple juice.  It was first printed in 1930 in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Books and is a must for foodies choosing to visit this borough. Although not quite as popular as the Manhattan, it was also referred to as the Queen, as well as Queen’s Cocktail and it came with its own set of variants.  Traditionally, the recipe calls for one part dry vermouth, one part rosso vermouth, two parts gin, and a slice of crushed pineapple. At least this is the version printed in Craddock’s book.

Staten Island Ferry

The recipe for a standard Staten Island Ferry cocktail is simply an equal mix of Malibu rum and pineapple juice. This beverage got its name after the ferry carried passengers between the Staten Island borough and Manhattan. The cocktail’s flavor resembles a simplified version of a pina colada.

The Staten Island cocktail has been regarded as a favorite for ferry riders to enjoy as they rode across New York’s East River. Imagine enjoying a view of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan’s skyline while sipping this tropical-inspired drink.

New York’s Classic Cocktail Culture

Aside from the five cocktails named after the boroughs of New York City, there are seven other classic alcoholic beverages worth mentioning. What makes the culinary world so fascinating is the exploration of new flavors when it comes to food and beverage. A city as culturally influential as New York is, it comes as no surprise it served as a starting point for some of the biggest food trends in the world.  This also applies to the city’s infamous cocktails.

Bloody Mary

At the time of its 1934 invention, Bloody Mary was deemed too vulgar of a name for the St. Regis Hotel’s clientele. Instead, it was called Red Snapper. This popular brunch cocktail originally came from a French bartender named Fernand Petiot.  This was served from the hotel’s King Cole Bar at a guest’s request as a vodka-based tomato juice cocktail with dashes of lemon, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire.

History & Recipes Of New York Cocktails Bloody Mary


Long before it rose to cult status as a favorite cocktail mentioned in Sex and the City during the late 1990s, the Cosmopolitan was first officially recognized as a cocktail in 1987. Tony Cecchini worked at Tribeca’s infamous Odeon when he strained together vodka, cranberry juice, lime, and Cointreau into Martini glasses and served it as a fruity-flavored alcoholic beverage.

Gin-Gin Mule

Gin-Gin Mule was first served as a cocktail in 2000 at the Beacon Restaurant & Bar.  At the same time, it became popular at Soho’s Pegu Club as an energizing elixir. Created by Audrey Saunders, the spicy take on the mojito calls for dry gin, ginger beer, mint, and freshly squeezed lime juice.  A classic Gin-Gin Mule will have a candied ginger drop, lime round, and a fresh mint sprig for garnish.

Long Island Iced Tea

One of the most popular cocktails enjoyed worldwide is best known as the Long Island Iced Tea. This classic beverage encompasses the cultural spirit that makes New York great.  It’s a melting pot of unique flavors that make it so easy to drink. If you’re not careful, you may forget this version of a cold iced tea beverage has alcohol in it.

Usually, a Long Island Iced Tea is mixed in a shaker with an ounce of gin, vodka, silver tequila, and white rum. It also has half an ounce of Triple Sec and half an ounce of lemon juice. Once shaken, this is poured into a chilled glass over a couple of ice cubes before topping it off with cola. This cocktail is usually garnished with a slice of lemon or orange by bartenders before it’s served to the customers.


The classic Martini fans of the popular cocktail have come to know and love got its famous start in 1912 at the Knickerbocker Hotel. The bartender’s name was Martini di Arma di Taggia and he served this popular beverage at the hotel’s ornate barroom. His recipe was simply mixing an elixir of gin, dry vermouth, red vermouth, orange, and citrus bitters.

This cocktail was a signature drink for pop culture icons James Bond, Ernest Hemingway, and the medical team from the popular television series M.A.S.H.  It’s still just as popular today as it ever was. James Bond liked his dry and shaken while the M.A.S.H. crew liked their Martinis dry and stirred.  Nowadays, there are many variants of the Martini, including ones that replace gin with vodka instead.

Old Fashioned

Either as a classic mix or as a contemporary concoction, the Old Fashioned owes much of its roots to the pioneering mixologists of New York City.  The classic is a cocktail made with a mix of sugar, bitters, and water before adding either bourbon or rye to complete the drink.  Usually, these beverages will feature an orange slice or a cocktail cherry as a garnish.

The Old Fashioned is one of the six basic drinks mentioned in David A. Embury’s book, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. This cocktail was one of the earliest and simpler versions of mixed alcoholic beverages before bartenders began to work with new recipe ideas.  In 1833, the Old Fashioned got its official name while a publisher named J.E. Alexander was visiting New York City.

Even though the origin of Old Fashioned as a cocktail beverage may not have come from New York directly, it was from this city several variants were spawned that became popular favorites. One such example includes the Oaxaca Old Fashioned, a smoky twist that was created in 2007 by bartender Philip Ward while he worked at Death & Company.  His version featured two types of mescal, a spoonful of agave nectar, angostura bitters, and an orange twist.


As a cocktail, Penicillin made its big intro in 2005 when Milk and Honey bartender Sam Ross made this alcoholic beverage for the first time. Penicillin is whiskey-based and owes its complex layers of sweet, smoked, sour, and peat appearance and flavor to the drug it was named after.  It’s also believed to carry medicinal properties when it comes to treating common ailments.

The mix of flavors that make Penicillin so popular includes Scotch malt whiskey, minced ginger, lemon juice, and a hint of honey. This cocktail favorite is usually garnished with either fresh or candied ginger on top.


Although Pickleback was already a popular whiskey-based cocktail that earned a reputation in California and Texas, it didn’t officially get its name until 2006.  Thanks to New Yorker bartender Reggie Cunningham from Bushwick Country Club, his mix of Old Crow Bourbon and McClure’s Spicy Dill Brine turned this previously unnamed alcoholic beverage into a popular favorite among cocktail connoisseurs.  Some even consider Pickleback as an ideal cure for the common cold.

The Spirit of New York

Ever since settlers first called New York their home in 1624, it was a place already destined for greatness long before it officially became a city. With the five boroughs pooling together to make New York City what it is today, the flavor of the Big Apple’s culinary culture is as diverse as the people living in it. Between the great food and tasty cocktails, it’s no wonder New Yorkers proudly call this city their home.  It’s also why so many people around the world pay so much attention to it and why it remains a popular choice among vacationers who wish to visit.

Spirits of New York: History & Recipes Of New York Cocktails article published on ClassicNewYorkHistory.com ©2023

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